‘La bohème’ at the ENO

☆☆☆☆ –  Can love eclipse death itself? 

It has often seemed ambiguous as to whether Bohemian artists were outstanding creators and thinkers or just aspirational imitators. Jonathon Miller’s production of La Bohème places them undoubtedly in the former category. 

La Bohème holds a light up to the emotionally hedonistic, yet economically insecure, world of 1930’s Bohemia, the protagonists’ dedication to the pursuit of pleasure, embodied by the energetic second act, juxtaposed against the abject poverty that defines the production’s latter half. A charismatic stage presence, Nadine Benjamin’s Musetta imbues the restaurant scene of Act Two with energy and excess, commanding the audience’s gaze. Natalya Romaniw, in the role of Mimi, uses her beautifully dynamic voice to engender both joy and heartbreak, Mimi’s illness subtly and poignantly acted. Romaniw’s outstanding vocal skillset is perhaps on best display during Act 3, Mimi’s despair at losing Rodolfo heart-rending – Nicholas Lester’s Marcello has his work cut out to match her. It’s an effectively vocal pairing, Lester’s rich tone lends Marcello a warmth that is particularly stirring in this scene.  Johnathan Tetleman’s Rodolfo proves a handsome match for Mimi throughout and provides a particularly powerful performance in the production’s climatic conclusion.   

Miller’s staging stays true to that of the original libretto. The audience is led from humble garret to lively café, onto the street and back again, firmly grounding the story in its Parisian context. The set feels organic and immersive and the Café Momus most of all: the café melds into the life of the street, creating a stage pulsing with life and energy in which Musetta’s flirtatious character thrives. Like all productions at the English National Opera, it is sung entirely in English which makes it accessible even for first time opera goers. 

It is all too easy to be swept up in the rich spectrum of emotions that run alongside the main themes of love and loss in this classic revival of La Bohème. It is testimony to the genius of Puccini and the quality of this performance that nothing seemed out of place to a modern day viewer. It is a chance to be transported off the streets of Covent Garden, into the spectacular Coliseum and then to Paris, to lose ourselves in doomed love story of Mimi and Rodolfo. Today’s youth might even find their feelings mirrored by the protagonists. If nothing else you will at least leave realising that eye-watering price of life in capital cities is not a new burden for the young creative. The production affirms La Bohème’s reputation as one of the most beautiful and emotionally captivating operas,  a charming, relatable production for younger audience members seeking to discover opera. 

Review by George Innes and Jemima Wolstencroft

8 performances remaining: 29 Jan, 02, 07, 09, 12, 14, 20 and 22 Feb

To book go to: https://www.eno.org/whats-on/la-boheme/ 

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